Jesse Hahnel of National Council on Youth Law led the discussion on the use of technology as it relates to foster youth and the organizations who serve them.

Do you have an articulate strategy for using technology like social media or apps to reach vulnerable youth? Does your organization embrace the use of technology or stick its head in the sand with the hope that whatever you’re doing will suffice? Ever worry that technology is replacing human interaction on important social issues? On December 2, 2014, we partnered with the Stuart and Pritzker Foundations to convene about 50 experts and stakeholders to address some of these questions and more. Jesse Hahnel of National Council on Youth Law led the discussion on the use of technology as it relates to foster youth and the organizations who serve them. The topics covered included:

  • The opportunities presented by new technologies
  • The limitation of what technology can achieve
  • Challenges associated with developing and implementing new technologies
  • How best to sustain, spread and integrate new technologies
  • How technology strategies complement other strategies aimed at improving the outcomes of youth in care

We heard a full range of perspectives, including those of organizations that developed new technologies aimed at improving the outcomes of foster youth; the developers responsible for creating the new technologies; public agencies implementing new technologies; funders supporting such strategies; and foster youth and other users of the new technologies.

The goal of the convening was for audience members to discuss and gain a better understanding of each of the above: how organizations, developers, agencies and funders can better collaborate to develop new technologies; and what the future of technology strategies might look like.

Regardless of people’s comfort levels with technology, one thing became clear – there are many unexploited opportunities to reach foster youth through information technology. Like so many other groups, a growing number of foster youth access information from computers and smart phones. We need to develop well-thought out websites and apps that can direct them to resources such as where they can find housing and when their financial aid application is due, rather than depending solely on their social worker or caregiver to provide them with this information. iFoster is an organization that virtually connects Transition Age Foster Youth to important resources and provides them with a “digital locker” that about 5,000 foster youth are currently using to hold important life documents such as birth certificates and transcripts. The Alliance for Children’s Rights, a Los Angeles-based foster care serving organization developed an app, “Know Before You Go,” that connects youth to housing, employment, legal services, and other resources in the area. Since July 2014, there have been 2,300 downloads.

Another thing was clear: we need to work together to ensure consistency and avoid duplication, if we are to help foster youth rather than confuse them. We also need to work closely with our public agency partners so that our information is accurate.

We all left the meeting with a sense of the importance of this issue. To facilitate further conversations, we created a LinkedIn group for interested stakeholders. We hope this forum will host ongoing discussions on the best uses of technology to spur improvements in child welfare and youth services work. If you are interested in learning more about the intersection of technology and foster care, or if you have innovations to share, we hope you will join the conversation! Leave a comment below with your thoughts about the role technology should play in supporting foster youth, and join our LinkedIn group.